Oh the Possibilities!

Be intentional about making time to learn

~George Couros, Innovate Inside the Box
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I am regularly blown away by the sheer volume of information, resources, and opportunities for learning (our own and our students) there are out there. I am continually learning about new resources and tools each week and while it takes time to read, watch, listen, comb through them all, it is time I find worthwhile and purposeful. This week I will share a few with you.

Earlier this week one of my colleagues, a Pre-K teacher, and I took time outside of our learning day (we are empty nesters so we can do this) to participate in an edweb webinar, “Creating Fun AND Instructive Learning Centers”. The big takeaways for me were the importance of making the learning accessible and equitable for all students, the learning centers need to align with the topic, they need to be intentionally created, teachers need to help guide the conversations with the students at the centers, and follow-up activities to do or discuss at home is a way to bridge the home-school connection.

The biggest takeaways, though were the additional resources for continued learning. First, is the edweb community of educators and the calendar of FREE webinars and resources. Three of the things that makes edweb such a great resource are the different professional learning communities for educators (there are close to 100) to join and learn with and from (for free), the webinars that happen everyday at varying times throughout the school day (and just after), and the continuing education certificates you can get for your participation. Second is the PBS teacherline professional development opportunities. PBS teacherline offers online, facilitated courses for graduate credits searchable by grade level, subject, and hours; and self-paced courses searchable by subject that are 1 1/2 – 3 hour commitments in total and are available to you for one year from the time of purchase ($49/course).

Curiosity drives the acquisition of knowledge

~Amanda Lang

If the above quote is true, how do we promote inquiry and curiosity in our classrooms? When Couros posed a similar same question in the Innovate Inside the Box Facebook group, among the many responses was one from a teacher who shared that she uses the QFT technique with her students. Since I had never heard of the QFT technique, I went to find out. I will leave you with a bit of curiosity and let you follow up on the questions you must have. If you want to go even further than that, then this may be what you are looking for.

Why Not Now?! #IMMOOC


If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect. ~Steven Johnson

I am excited to further my learning by participating in the Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course with George Couros and have chosen to respond to the following prompt:

Why is innovation in education so crucial today?

When I was a child- back in the ’70s and ’80s, I can remember the excitement of getting the yearly supplement to the World Book Encyclopedia. It was green and off-white leather and it had the year on the spine. I sat them proudly on my bookshelf next to the red and navy encyclopedias that went from A-Z. I literally had the world in my hands- or at least on the bookshelf in my bedroom- and I could learn anything I wanted, when I wanted by just opening the right volume.

Flash forward to the college years when I was first introduced to ERIC microfiche (and by the way, pulling that word out of my head is so mind-boggling since if you asked me tomorrow what I did over the weekend I would probably not remember) and I thought my head would explode from all the available material at my disposal anytime I stepped foot in Olin library.

Today, we don’t have to wait for the yearly installments to arrive, nor do we have to step foot in a library (don’t get me wrong, I love libraries because I love books) if we have an internet connection and a smart phone, tablet, or other mobile device; the information is literally at our fingertips (or thumbs depending on how you type!) whenever we want to learn.

And yet, in many schools, students are waiting- waiting for the bell to tell them when to go to and leave from class; waiting for the teacher to tell them it’s ok to take out their devices; waiting to get the assignment; and waiting to be called on to answer a question.

In some schools, even those where students are given laptops and often have other devices in their hands, those devices are not necessarily being used to their potential- to connect students with others, to share learning, discuss topics, to create for authentic audiences and real feedback, to learn more.

And this is why innovation in education is so crucial today. It is because students and teachers have these capabilities in their laps that what happens in schools needs to be more innovative. Educational systems may have enough physical space for each student to learn, but may be lacking in space for innovation. Teachers and students in schools today need space and time to think differently, think creatively, think innovative-ly. They need time and space to collaborate and the freedom to do so. They need to be applauded for taking risks, lifted up when they fail, and encouraged to reflect on what went wrong, what went right, and how both additional efforts and reflection time can help them improve.

Innovation is not necessarily a lab or makerspace in the building. While those physical spaces can lead to innovations, finding passions, and creative expression, it is not the actual space but what happens in it and around it. What are the mindsets of those spaces. Do they allow for and encourage freedom of expression, student choice, risk-taking, collaborating, reflecting? Do they encourage students and teachers to look at things and think about how they can use or do things differently? Do they inspire a love of learning and give them space to be curious and then follow that curiosity wherever it may lead?

As Couros says in his Introduction,

We need to change what schools look like for our students so we can create new, relevant opportunities for them– for their future and for today.

We are at a time of constant change, upgrading, making things happen in the world outside of school, we need to make things happen inside the world of schools, and the time for this to happen is now.

photo credit: hehaden Times square via photopin (license)

Back to School with a Growth Mindset


“There is a difference between not knowing and not knowing YET” ~Sheila Tobias

Welcome back to what I hope will be a positive school year for everyone. I have collected some posts that I think will help you make this year of learning in your classroom memorable for you and your students.

First off is a post from esteemed educator, George Couros titled, 5 Questions to Ask Your Students to Start the School Year, one of them being, “What are your strengths and how can we utilize them?” In his post he emphasizes how the impact our experiences with our students helps shape their thoughts and reflections and memories of school. Coming off our school’s recent Positive Psychology/Positive Education retreat, we know that positive psychology is about recognizing that “Other People Matter” and if we keep this at the forefront of our mind, we can hope to positively shape and influence our students’ experiences for the better. This involves how we listen to, respond, speak to, and engage with our students. To see the rest of the questions Couros suggests, click here.

The next is from Khan Academy and it ties in with positive psychology’s emphasis on Growth Mindset. Khan Academy has partnered with PERTS, a Stanford-based research group that includes Carol Dweck, Joe Boaler and others. They have created a series of lessons on growth mindset for students ranging from third through twelfth grade as part of their LearnStorm activities (What is Learnstorm- watch here). Within each of the six growth mindset activities, you will find readings, videos, reflection prompts, and more. You can do the activities one per week over six weeks, or whatever works for your classroom. For more information on how a third grade teacher used the lessons with his classroom, you can watch this recording.

I have posted about this next tool before here and here, but with so many new features as well as the opportunities it affords to learn your students’ stories, thoughts, reflections, and connect with others around the world, it bears mentioning again. Flipgrid is the easiest way to have your students create video responses to your prompts which with the wide array of amazing new features (yes, I have said it again because they are really that great) includes text, video, image, or uploaded document prompts.

The final share is a two-part post on bell-ringer activities from Matt Miller of DITCH Textbook fame. I have previously written about him here and here and several other mentions. In his two-part post he offers 20 digital ways to kick off your class and hook your students into each learning experience to make their learning memorable. Some of my favorite ideas are the QR code on the board, a What If Flipgrid , tweeting for someone, blackout poetry, and s- (to see the rest and figure out what I was about to say, visit 10 digital bell-ringer activities to kickstart class and 10 MORE digital bell ringer activities to kickstart class.

Photo credit: Foter.com

Choice, Voice, & Assessment

This week there is a lot to share so I am going to jump right in and get started.

Read and Write Choice Board While many of you have your students reading and writing, how often are you letting your students make choices about how they are going to share their understanding of what they have read? This Choice Board offers nine tech tools/apps students that allow you to differentiate for your learners.

This next one is a BAM Radio podcast, “The Most Practical Ways to Get Students to Lead Their Learning” with Larry Ferlazzo, Yvette Jackson, Veronica McDermott, Rebecca Mieliwocki, and Gallit Zvi. This podcast speaks about using options like Genius Hour for bridging the gap between a student’s passion and the expectation for learning, and learning about students’ interests by asking them this question,

“If you didn’t have to be in school, what would you be doing?”

Alan November is an absolute favorite of mine as you probably know if you have been reading my posts. These next two shares are from his most recent articles Assessment for Learning  and Digital Citizenship Lessons from a 9-Year-Old With 18,000 Twitter Followers. In Assessment for Learning November asks,

“What if we could empower our teachers to turn assessment into a process of learning instead of a focus on measurement?”

He shares examples from Harvard down through middle school where the teachers and professors allowed their students to take assessments twice. Depending on the classroom example, teachers either had their students take the assessments on their own first and then take it again in small groups where they could work together and discuss how they arrived at an answer; or they take it in groups first, learn from each other, then take a similar assessment on their own. I think you will want to try this innovative way of assessing in your classrooms too.

In Digital Citizenship Lessons from a 9-Year-Old you will learn about Olivia Van Ledtje’s love of reading and how she shares that love and passion through her vlogs (video blog posts) and more recently, her Twitter account @thelivbits. You and your students should check out what she is doing and think about how they could share their interests too.

George Couros is another favorite educator who recently shared this post, “What Could Go Right?” Often times we are in situations or conversations with colleagues or students and coming up with a laundry list of reasons why this idea or suggestion will not work. We listen to the negatives that are shouting at us in the background- or even the ones who are speaking to them out loud- instead of thinking, what could go right. Couros posits,

“We need to make the positives so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear.”

Many teachers love using Kahoot! for formative assessment and review, but how many are using it to teach or introduce new content? DITCH That Textbook’s Matt Miller explains exactly how to go about this in his post, “Teach With Kahoot!: Go beyond review with the Blind Kahoot! What is a Blind Kahoot! you ask? Check out this video (which you will also find in Matt’s blog post).

Lastly, I recently started using Flipgrid and participated in the first #FlipgridFever chat on Twitter this past week. “What is Flipgrid,” you ask? You can check out a recent post. There were so many great ideas being shared including using Flipgrid to practice a target language and connect with other classrooms around the world using their global grid connections. Teachers, get ready to make those student voices heard!

For more great articles, videos, and posts, check out this week’s Shipley PLN Lower & Middle School Edition.